Posted by Rampant Coyote on June 16, 2011
So almost a quarter of game sales are now through digital distribution. When that number exceeds 50%… well, you are already seeing interesting things happen, you will just see more of it.
I suspect that for PC games, that number is even higher. Rock Paper Shotgun opines, “You might still be able to get a cheap boxed copy from a mail-order outlet, but the chances are you won’t find PC games at all in the shops at all. And as far as PC developers are concerned, digital is all. Retail is over. Which reminds me, I really must write that thing about Steam’s hegemony…”
It’s been both a blessing and a curse. Yes, digital distribution has also been the bane of PC gaming, making piracy ridiculously easy compared to the bad ol’ days I remember when it was done through cracked copies burned on CD-ROMs, and before that copied onto floppy disks. As a side note, I remember talking to someone at Origin circa 1991 about getting a job with them, and being told that they were considering CD-ROM to be the future of the industry, because they were impractical to pirate. Hah! That lasted maybe a year after CD-ROMs became a dominant distribution medium.
But now games are freed of physical constraints all but entirely. Yes, it means pirates have a field day, and its overwhelming presence makes it much harder to profit – or even break even – on a game. But it also means that the stranglehold of the gatekeepers is – well, not destroyed (see the above comment about Steam’s hegemony), but definitely weakened. It means the barriers to entry imposed by distribution have been practically eliminated. It has effectively made each sale more profitable, and as a counterpoint has probably done a bit to keep game prices down.
And it means indies can exist in a significant form. And you’d have to be living in a cave to not recognize that indies have become a major influence on gaming today.
Another concern of mine is that the boundless new medium dictates or restrict the kinds of games being made. I love how it’s made things like social gaming and mobile gaming possible. But as a player, I don’t want to be marooned by developers (as I already have been in many game genres I have loved…) as they race off on the latest gold rush. Solo games, according to folks like Richard Garriott, are obsolete relics of a previous era.
But I’m not overly worried. The more open medium has provided a solution to it’s own problem: Indies will come to fill the void. They’ll find ways to make it work. The old brick-and-mortar model is dead, but the old style of games that thrived during that era doesn’t have to be.
Filed Under: Biz - Comments: 13 Comments to Read